JEDDAH: Some of the world’s best female golfers from 27 countries tee off on Thursday, March 17, for the third edition of the Aramco Saudi Ladies International presented by the Public Investment Fund at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club, King Abdullah Economic City.
Led by several Major winners and Solheim Cup stars including Norway’s Anna Nordqvist, England’s Georgia Hall, Spain’s Carlota Ciganda, England’s Bronte Law and Denmark’s Emily Kristine Pedersen, the field will compete for $1 million in prize money and write the next chapter of women’s golf in Saudi Arabia.
The event is the second tournament of the 2022 Ladies European Tour season — a year that will supersede all others with a total prize pool of nearly $30 million, the largest in LET history. This is an increase of close to $8 million from 2021, and more than double the prize-money on offer in 2019.
The event is expected to provide an indicator of which names to watch out for over the rest of the season, including some of the most exciting young players seeking to establish themselves.
Australian Stephanie Kyriacou, who at 21 years of age already has three career titles to her name, is now the holder of both LET and LPGA tour cards. She has 10 top-10 finishes in 2021, including a tie for ninth at this same event last year, firmly positioning her as a favorite this week.
Pia Babnik of Slovenia won the R&A Girls Amateur Championship in 2019, joining the LET a year later at just 16 years of age. Last November, she claimed what was the second tour title of her young career at Royal Greens, with victory in the individual category of the Aramco Team Series in Jeddah. Now, aged 18, she returns to the course, seeking her third professional win.
Defending champion Lydia Ko was forced to withdraw earlier this week after testing positive for COVID-19, but with the tournament’s 2020 maiden champion Emily Kristine Pedersen — plus international stars Angel Yin, Laura Davies and Anne van Dam — all part of the stellar line-up, the field remains very experienced.
The tournament will also have the biggest Arab representation in LET history.
When the Aramco Saudi Ladies International was first played two years ago, the field featured only a single Arab golfer: Morocco’s Maha Haddioui.
This week’s tournament will welcome three Arab players — the most of any LET event in history, and all from Morocco.
Saudi fan-favorite Haddioui will be joined by countrywomen Ines Laklalech and Lina Belmati, both of whom will be making their professional debuts, and both of whom name the 10-year LET veteran as one of their key inspirations.
The Aramco Saudi Ladies International was last held in November, when Lydia Ko stormed to victory in commanding fashion. The tournament returns less than four months later, with a far earlier spot in the LET’s season calendar, as only the second event of 2022.
It follows February’s Magical Kenya Ladies Open, won by Esther Henseleit of Germany. With plenty of Race to Costa del Sol and official World Ranking points on the table, a strong performance at Royal Greens will allow players to gain an early foothold in the tour’s most lucrative season yet.
However, the change of season has brought with it different playing conditions for the players. Royal Greens is renowned for its afternoon winds, especially along the Red Sea coastline where its 15th, 16th and 17th holes lie.
Forecasters are predicting strong winds throughout the entirety of the tournament this week, which will make this year’s event the toughest yet.
On Friday, the tournament will play host to a Ladies Day, as part of which, all women and girls are invited along to enjoy complimentary, expert-led golf lessons, in the presence of some big-name Saudi YouTube stars, and a host of ladies keen to learn more about the sport.